THE RAY AND BARRY SHOW: Was a hit for a time in Nashville, where Ray Shero spent eight years apprenticing for his first general manager’s job under David Poile and Barry Trotz was the one-and-only coach in Predators history until this past season ended. Could they be reunited again in Washington?
Trotz is the odds-on favorite to land the Capitals job, with an announcement expected later this week. If Washington gets it right, they’ll also be announcing their new GM at that point – with Shero and Paul Fenton (currently the assistant GM in Nashville) as two of the front-runners for the job.
The $64-million question is Washington is always going to be, how do you concoct a playoff-winner around a team that will feature the goal-scoring talents of Alex Ovechkin, plus the young up-and-coming Russian Evgeni Kuznetsov?
Sometimes, in the care of feeding of an NHL superstar, coaches are tempted to play favorites. Trotz is not known for that, part of the reason the skilled but flighty Alexander Radulov never found a home in Nashville, despite two different tours with the squad.
GET CARTER: If you compare an NHL lineup to a Rubik’s Cube - a constant source of frustration to a coach until it suddenly all clicks into place - then the Los Angeles Kings’ decision to switch Jeff Carter back to his natural position, centre, was the key to their season. According to coach Darryl Sutter, the decision was made in meetings with general manager Dean Lombardi during the Olympic break – and ironically, it was because they decided to think big-picture, down-the-road thoughts.
Sutter indicated that the team wanted to make both Tanner Pearson and Tyler Toffoli full-time NHLers, but couldn’t up to that point because of salary-cap reasons. Ideally, they always saw Carter as a centre, even back when they originally acquired him from the Columbus Blue Jackets, but they needed him to play the wing because that’s where the need happened to be the greatest.
But with Pearson and Toffoli poised to make the NHL, strengthening the Kings on the wings, it gave them the luxury to play Carter at centre. Just about every team in the league is desperate for a skilled centre with size. L.A. has two of them, Anze Kopitar and Carter, who would safely fit in among the top 15 pivots in the league.
Moreover, the switch enabled them to shift Mike Richards to the fourth line, which gives them arguably the strongest depth down the middle in the league. Through three games of the Blackhawks’ series, that’s where the edge predominantly lies. Chicago has a big-drop off after Jonathan Toews, while the Kings can roll the lines, without worrying too much about getting an unfavorable match-up.
“As a coach, you always think, ‘now, now, now,’” said Sutter. “Jeff, we like him at center. Even when we got him, we could see him as a centre. We weren’t in that position yet, on the wings, to do that.”
Now they are.
According to the Blackhawks’ Patrick Kane, while the Carter line “is hot right now” and has been "a really good line for them in the playoffs,” there’s more to their success than just skill and emerging chemistry.
“If you look at some of the bounces they've had too, they are probably pretty favourable," said Kane. "That's what happens when you're going well. You're going to find those positive bounces."
THE INJURY WATCH: Apart from that pesky task of appointing a new GM to replace Shero, Pittsburgh’s off-season plans could hinge on how quickly their two best young defencemen, Olli Maatta and prospect Derrick Pouliot, recover from shoulder surgery conducted last week.
Both had torn labrums and both will need four-to-six months recover, which in a best-case scenario, gets them ready for the second half of training camp and in a worst-case scenario keeps them out up to six weeks. Ideally, the Penguins would like to re-sign defenceman Matt Niskanen, a pending unrestricted free agent, but if he signs elsewhere, they'll have a pretty thin blueline to start the season.
Whoever replaces Shero as general manager is likely going to be unable to explore potential deals for the likes of Kris Letang or Rob Scuderi until the health of the collective defence corps sorts itself out. As for rookie forward Beau Bennett, he had a second surgery on his wrist and will need about four additional months of recovery time.
Two of the Boston Bruins’ top nine forwards, Milan Lucic and Chris Kelly, underwent surgery last week, Lucic on his right wrist, Kelly to repair a herniated disc in his back that kept him out for the playoffs. Both are expected to be ready for the start of training camp.